Facebook makes a play for associations and member organizations with new group features

Facebook just became a little more attractive to member-based organizations like associations that are looking to host their online communities in the platform.

On October 1, 2020, Facebook announced a number of new “Groups” features that made it much more appealing to an association or non-profit–or any business for that matter–that might be thinking about leveraging the platform to engage its online community.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are some major cons (and controversies) when using Facebook to power your association’s online community, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about. Instead, I want to look at some of the reasons, whether they’re new or old, that you might consider using Facebook for your association’s member community.

Here are the classics: It’s free; your audience is probably there already; and it’s reliable and easy to use. Let me know if you have any questions.

But the updates announced at the Facebook Communities Summit take Groups to another level–one that adds serious value for associations operating communities on a budget. You can check out the complete list of updates in the Facebook Newsroom, or watch the full Communities Summit Keynote below. In the meantime, let’s take a dive into the new features and what they offer association communities and community managers.

Administration & Moderation
First and foremost, Facebook has introduced a number of new features that help the company and administrators keep tabs on the content shared in groups, among them artificial intelligence tools designed to detect and remove content violations without a user reporting it or a moderator reviewing it.

The platform has also introduced “Admin Assist,” a series of rules you can set up to help you automatically moderate posts with certain keywords, posts from new members, and posts from members who have been reported for past violations.

Beyond reporting violations, though, the company has also introduced new features to help you organize posts in your groups. Among these are group-specific hashtags, which an administrator can pin to the top of the group to highlight a specific topic and use to organize user-generated content and discussions.

Sponsorships & Monetization
A clear play for businesses of all stripes, the sponsored content features will give associations and nonprofits an opportunity to monetize their Facebook Groups in a way that haven’t before. While monetization may not have been a barrier to participation for many associations, this added feature definitely makes Facebook Groups more appealing to an association that might be looking to host all or some of its online community programming in the platform.

And the best part is: All sponsorship income goes right to the group admin. No fees attached.

I should note that to take advantage of sponsored content, your organization will need to qualify to participate in Facebook’s Brand Collabs Manager. I haven’t personally been through the process, so I can’t tell you what exactly it takes to qualify. However, you should be sure to consider this before making any promises to leadership about monetizing your Facebook group. You can read a complete list of Facebook’s community and monetization guidelines here.

Among the most exciting changes to groups are the new engagement tools built into the platform. These are features that you’ve likely seen implemented in platforms like Mighty Networks and Mobilize that admins can use to promote specific discussions or users.

We’ll get to those in a second, but the first engagement feature, and the clearest indication IMO that Facebook is making a play for associations and other businesses, is the introduction of customized profiles in groups. This feature allows a user to choose which photo, name, and other information is displayed in their group profile, somewhat reducing the need for professionals to maintain both a “personal” and “professional” Facebook profiles. This feature gives users a bit more flexibility in how they portray themselves in groups, and might also be an indication that Mark Zuckerberg, in fact, believes in some level of online privacy.

But what are these other engagement tools, already?

First are discussion prompts: Admins can start (and promote) a thread based on a particular topic. The prompt is then shared with group members encouraging them to share a post, photo, or video related to the topic. This is great for associations who want to highlight events, resources, or reminders to members.

Additionally, you can now create Q&A posts (essentially Live Discussions) with an admin or with a featured member of the group. Just like discussion prompts and topics, these can be pinned to the group to encourage further participation.

And finally, is the group chat feature which allows members of the group to create small-group discussions with a selection of other group members. If there’s a discussion or topic that needs to be kept close to the vest, this features allows group members to create private sidebars for these conversations. This is especially great for committees with multiple working groups, allowing discreet planning conversations to happen in chats while reserving the open group discussion for issues and topics relevant to the entire committee.

Facebook also continues to roll out tools and resources for first-time community admins to get up to speed on these features and community management in general, including its Community Hub, where any user can start learning about managing online communities, and a new community management certification program.

Future of Groups
In wrapping all of this up, I also want to note that these changes are likely not the end of Facebook’s pivot to groups and communities. The company’s trend toward groups was made clear with its Super Bowl 2020 advertisement, and its Facebook Community Summit in October indicates they’re actually ramping up their efforts to focus on small-group engagement.

In the long-run it makes great sense to offer these tools and features, even for free, to membership organizations and companies. It allows us to build real communities in the ways that we need to build them. But I guarantee that FB has a plan to leverage the relationships it’s building in Facebook proper to build a client base for its Workplace software, which is essentially enterprise Facebook for companies. But it’s price tag can be hard to swallow if you’re not already invested in the platform.

Despite all that, and while I didn’t expect to hear myself say it ever again, I will definitely be looking to Facebook for innovations in the community space and look forward to Facebook’s return to small-scale, human-centered communities.

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